Small and hidden is the door that leads inward and the entrance is barred by countless prejudices, mistaken assumptions, and fears.
Carl Jung, CW 10, Page 154
A digression, of sorts.
When I was 18, my father sat me down at his small kitchen table and told me revised stories of his childhood, especially his teen years. Stories about being a first generation Italian young man in Chicago in the 1950s. By revisions, I mean complete revisions.
One of the stories was about how he had lost the vision in his left eye when he was seventeen. The family story, legend really, was that it was a football injury – my father had been a star high school player who had earned a college football scholarship before the injury. At that table, he told me what really happened was that he had been caught cheating with a friend at a serious poker game, one with older men, for serious money. How, when the older men discoverd they had cheated, he was beat up and, in the process, a man struck him in the head with a lead pipe, blinding him.
He then told me a story about his high school best friend and who he really was – in actuality, a grandson in one of the mafia families in power in Chicago at the time. How he, my father, had been part of that “family”, because of his friend and had been invited to be fully “in the family” when he was in his early 20s. He said, “But I did not join ‘the family’ because of you and your brothers.” He then said, “Now, ask no questions. This is the last I will speak of it.”
When I was 18, I did not know how to push past my father’s mandate about silence. I did not know how to ask those kinds of questions. I think I also did not want to know, did not want to ask. His story threatened to completely change the landscape of my knowing of my father.
What I did, instead, was to do some quick rearranging – I made it into a quaint story that I told people when we talked about families and family histories. Quaint that my father had “kinda been in the mafia.” I always said that he was “on the outskirts” of the organization, that he was not really in it.
I did as my father had taught – turned a blind eye.
My father died a few years ago. When he passed, I had not seen or spoken to him in many years, a dance we both participated in. When I would call, he would either not answer or answer and ask me to stop calling because it was too painful for him. That my being in his life brought up too many painful memories of his “failures” as a father. That he did not want me to see him as an old man, barely able to walk. A couple of times when I called, he simply picked up, heard my voice and hung up. He did this with my brothers, too. I stopped calling. I told myself that I still did not know how to push past my father’s silence. The last time I saw him, he was unconscious in hospital. He never woke up. He held his silence.
In truth, I was afraid to push into my father’s silence. I was afraid what was there.
After he died, I decide to rewatch “The Godfather” which I had not watched since I was a teenager. I was feeling nostalgic, wanting some thing of his and I knew it had been one of his favorite movies. Especially because he said he had been in several scenes similar to ones in the movie; the opening wedding scene in particular.
It was shocking to me, re-watching the movie. “It” being the violence. Shocking because it was not just a movie but a piece of my father’s history. He had lived in the this world, not as a major player, but he had been part of it.
My father came from a deep place of violence and he never spoke of it. Shocking because it meant it was part of my history, too. Not some romantic vision, some quaint story. Violence. That my father’s body received and must have been given, as well. I imagine now how, maybe feeling powerless as a first-generation Italian man, the mafia offered him power. A way to survive.
He lived as if it had not happened (or continued to happen). He kept it secret. We grew up in suburban Cincinnati, my mother’s hometown, with very little connection to my father’s life in Chicago. He was determined that we not know his history; he was determined that we did not “grow up Italian”. He worked hard to silence it in himself.
It shook me. This thing I had known for most of my life but had never looked at directly. What did he carry in his body, his traumatized body. How he handed his blindness to me.
When I started this exploration of my chosen lineage of dreaming this year, I felt scared. I did not, at first, realize I was scared. My first impulses were about wanting to do something around racial injustice, around feeling frustrated in my own writings about dreaming because it felt like large pieces were missing, around wanting to examine my own racist and sexist beliefs. To stop being part of the problem and to truly be part of healing and conversation. What I did know – I felt anger and a little excitement.
I now feel how scared I am of this exploration. Scared not about exposing my own racism, my own internalized misogyny – I know I am a part of the weave of a culture that acts as if European-American culture is the highest of cultures and that those beliefs and prejudices and layers of violence are woven into my body/psyche, too. Working with dreams has taught me to face into my blindspots, places that need to be challenged, places that are uncomfortable.
What has scared me unconsciously more is more this – that if I delve into my lineages, both chosen and blood/cultural, that I will find that all I believe is based on lies.
Which is, of course, true.
This is not the only truth.
This fear is the same fear I refused to feel around bringing my gaze to my father and his history. If I research the history of Italian immigrants in Chicago, I am reading part of my own history. It is a history full of violence, prejudice, survival. (How the Italian story in Chicago is intricately woven with the story of the Great Migration and what happened in the city.)
In my own personal work, I used to joke that I wished the relationships and things in my work that required deep healing were more obviously delineated. For example, that a person who had caused trauma/suffering for me could be defined as “evil” and that this would somehow make my healing more “simple”. If it were that “simple”, the reasoning goes, it would be easy to entirely hate or entirely condemn the other. I would not have to think or feel beyond some sense of this kind of “obviousness”. Justified in my anger and hurt and obvious response.
For example, my relationship with my father. The “obvious” of that relationship, one could argue (and I did) was that he abandoned me. He rejected me. There were places where he did not protect me. There were places where he manipulated and emotionally incested me.
This is a place where the idea of the ideal slips in and works at an unconscious level in the personal realm. Here it is – the idea of the ideal that when something bad happens, there is evil in the other and innocence and good in me.
It carries an assumption of innocence on my part. With my father, this means that I have no cause to look at my own part in the years of silence between us. That I would not have to reckon with my part in the emotional manipulation.
In the bigger context of my life, this line of thinking ignores how I have places where I have caused trauma and suffering in my personal relationships, like with my father (because, of course, I have), as well as through participation without question or action in a society that daily traumatizes those who are deemed “other”.
It ignores circumstances for the “other”. Meaning, even for those who have “caused harm” in my life – that they have circumstances, too, which are part of the larger context of what happened in those moments.
It also creates a burden of innocence; if there is such a sharp delineation of good and evil, and I do not want to be evil, then I always have to be good. Always have to be perfect. Always, then, have to recreate, recast my stories to fit into this narrative.
The over-simplification of good/evil takes something completely and beautifully complex, the human experience, and turns it into something completely flat, offering no opening into lines of inquiry, places of curiosity, other ways of seeing and knowing. Just good and bad, right and wrong. Which spins out to people who must fit into these categories – good or bad, right or wrong. It offers no place for healing.
It is a gesture toward what we do and have been taught to do in terms of relationship both personal and cultural – make someone or a group of someones “other” so we do not have to see the larger context.
I have done this in my own historical reckoning around my father. I felt his silence as a wound, as a denial of being my father, as a rejection. I felt justified in not being insistent on having a relationship with him, on not calling him anymore. I did not consider the context of how he was affected by his history, what stories he held that he did not want me to know. The level of shame in his body when he heard my voice on the phone and then hung up without speaking. I never leaned in. Into my own fear. Into his.
My father was not simple. Even with our difficulties, he was also dear to me in many ways. He loved in his way when he could. He had a beautiful laugh. He taught me how to play poker, writing out cheat sheets for me because I could never remember what beat what. After my parents divorced, he would make me steak and pasta. When he remarried and moved to Florida, they did have us visit a few times. And, he did not know how to be with me. The moment he sat with me at 18 was his attempt to tell me about himself, but it was only a small window.
I am not simple, either. I loved him and did not care about “past failures” the way he did. And I did not insist, I did not just show up at his door, I took on his silence. I loved him in my ways when I could.
Leaning into my roots around dreaming is teaching me that being shook to the core is being shook so that my core, my truest self can find more space to grow and be known.
Leaning into my roots is not making my greatest fears manifest. Instead, what has been happening for me in my readings, my research, in my explorations, in my own facing my blindness, has been quite the opposite. Rather than undermining my life’s work, my passion, my very foundation of who I am, rather than exposing that all that is true for me as completely terrible and wrong, what is opening is new pathways, new possibilities, new curiosity, new lines of inquiry.
Leaning into my “chosen” ancestor, Jung, is opening into my own personal lineage through my father and my mother. Leaning into this research around systemic racism and misogyny helps to lean into how it was passed down through my blood, my family lines, in my day-to-day.
Instead of feeling hate and rage and the need to disown all of Jung’s theories and teachings (which, to be honest, I did feel at first), I am finding not just the places of Jung’s racism, his misogyny, but also discovering anew places where he was brilliant – only this time in context, this time not as some endpoint. I am engaged in a broader, deeper context which creates space for a multi-layered sense of choice and agency in my own practice with dreaming and with dreamers.
With my father, instead of feeling justified in participating in my his silence, I feel the grief of not leaning in. And how the not-leaning in is a form of violence unto itself in me. My father died in an agony of silence. I could follow in his footsteps in this way, as I have done in other ways.
My chosen field suffers from this same kind of silence.
I am making the choice not to be silent.
Next up: Idea of the Ideal, Part III.